Former Gov. Paul LePage took issue Wednesday with Lewiston’s bid to get by with fewer school days this year.

“I think just the opposite,” said LePage, a Republican seeking to win back the office he held from 2011-19. “I think we should increase the school year.”

Former Gov. Paul LePage in Auburn last month File photo

“If we have to go through into July, that’s fine,” LePage said during an interview with the Howland-based WVOM radio station.

The Lewiston School Committee agreed unanimously Monday to allow the district’s superintendent to request a waiver from the state to have fewer than the mandated 175 school days out of concern that COVID-19 may make it difficult to be in school that long.

Maine’s minimum school year of 175 days is already lower than most other states. In New England, four states require at least 180 days. Vermont has the same limit as Maine.

The school year in Lewiston is expected to stretch into the third week of June as it is.

The district’s superintendent, Jake Langlais, told school committee members that he “can’t look a teacher in the eyes right now and say that if we have a disruption now, we’re going to extend the school year. It’s really late in the year, our buildings are hot, the kids are done, the staff, and I love them, they’re done.”

LePage said, though, that students are already “falling behind” because of dealing with COVID-19 issues since they initially shut down in March 2020.

“Their tests are showing that kids are losing so much,” LePage said. “We need to get our children back on par.”

It is not clear what test scores the governor was talking about.

LePage said students need “to have a normal life” again after such a long period of disruption.

He pointed to a study cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in June that found attempted suicides by teenage girls was “way, way up,” as the former governor put it. Researchers said the rates in early 2021 were 50% higher than in the same period in 2019.

LePage is hoping to defeat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in the November general election. Mills took over leadership of the state after winning the 2018 race. LePage, who had served two terms, was not allowed legally to seek reelection that year.

In his wide-ranging radio interview, LePage said the state should recognize it has “completely lost the battle of slowing the spread” of COVID-19 and ought to focus instead on doing more to try to minimize the damage caused by the pandemic.

While LePage called for people to get vaccinated and boosted, he criticized efforts to require that people get the shots.

But if health care workers are mandated to get them, he said, welfare recipients should, too.

After all, “they can travel and mingle much easier than a person who’s at work,” LePage said. “There should be a requirement for those who are collecting welfare to be vaccinated.”

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